In a recent interview on Plain Talk, I asked the Prime Minister in his capacity as Leader of the National Assembly whether he was concerned about bills being passed by the National Assembly and not being assented to within the period (twenty-one days) required by the constitution. This problem first surfaced in a big way in 2006. The Prime Minister estimated these to be “about six.”
I knew that was not correct and visited the Parliament Office on Tuesday January 12, requesting an update on 2009 bills not assented to. I was asked to come back later in the day. After making several attempts to contact the person her supervisor told me that the information could not be made available to me.
In any case it was public knowledge that for 2006 ten bills lapsed because of presidential inaction and from records we maintain at Ram & McRae, I was aware that for 2009 only, twenty-six of forty bills had been published in the Official Gazette. What surprised me not a little is that after my enquiries there appeared a flurry of activities involving “the printers” and I wondered whether there was any mischief afoot, even though the Gazette in which the legislation is published had already had moved on to 2010.
It was a shock, but not a surprise, therefore, to receive this past Wednesday several Extraordinary Gazettes containing legislation that dates back, in some cases, several months.
This information provides clear evidence that the constitution continues to be flouted by the President with the tacit or expressed agreement, or neglect of the National Assembly. And even if we assume that the backdated publication is constitutional and legitimate, that leaves eight bills passed in 2009 by the National Assembly which the President has not dealt with in compliance with the constitution.
The implications are more than academic. To force public servants either directly or indirectly to engage in backdating any documents, let alone the Official Gazette, is to make corruption part of their work. Second, it is dangerous for the President to break the very constitution which he took an oath to uphold. Finally, an Act comes into operation on the date of publication. Those Acts published in predated Gazettes are therefore considered to be of retroactive effect, an equally dangerous issue.